Caring for Pearl Jewelry: A Guide to Preserving A Pearl's Luster and Beauty

“Pearls will make you glow like moonlight.”

— Coco Chanel

Pearls are the epitome of timeless elegance. For the longest time, they've been associated with purity, femininity, and luxury. They're delicate, classic, and absolutely gorgeous. But, pearl jewelry isn't like your regular gemstone jewelry.

Pearls aren't stones; they're organic material and very fragile. In fact, they're only a 2.5 on the Mohs scale, meaning they need special care and maintenance. They also need to be worn regularly (and carefully), and they should be cleaned with care.

In this blog post, I'll dive deep into how to care for your pearls, so that you can enjoy the pinnacle of elegance without damaging your pearl jewelry.

Understanding Your Pearls

As mentioned before, pearls aren't stones. They form from the organic secretion oysters produce whenever the oyster's interior gets irritated. This secretion is called nacre, which is also the same material you may know as Mother of Pearl. Because of their delicate formation process, natural pearls are rather rare and expensive. But there are also cultured pearls.

Cultured pearls are real pearls that are cultivated in a controlled environment. Producers achieve this by inserting irritating material in oysters to get it to produce the nacre that turns into pearls. Cultured pearls are considerably more abundant and affordable than natural pearls.

There are also two subcategories of pearls: freshwater and seawater pearls. The difference between them is that freshwater pearls form in lakes, while seawater pearls form in the ocean.

Cultured freshwater pearls are the most common type of pearl available in the market. Personally, I enjoy using freshwater pearls, including Lagniappe pearls harvested in the Tennessee River, South Sea pearls, and Tahitian pearls. I pair them with 14K or 18K gold depending on the design.

Pearl Hydration, Daily Wear, & Risks at the Beach

Pearls are made of layers of calcium carbonate and conchiolin, which require moisture. So, proper care is key to keeping your pearls beautiful — it helps them keep their luster and prevents them from breaking.

Many pearl experts advise that pearls should be worn, since they absorb moisture from the environment as well as from the wearer. However, you definitely shouldn't wear your pearls all the time! Take off your pearls when you exercise and when you sleep.

Given that pearls form naturally in the sea, some people mistakenly believe that pearls do just fine on the beach. It kind of makes sense! However, the beach has more than just salty water. Pearls can be vulnerable to damage at the beach due to exposure to sunscreen, bug repellent, hair spray, lotions, and physical activity.

Chemicals take away the luster from pearls. Salt water can corrode jewelry settings, while physical contact can break them! I highly recommend not wearing pearls on the beach.

How to Care for Your Pearl Jewelry

Now that you know all the basics about pearls and what to protect them from, let's see how we can actually wear them without damaging them.

  • Last On, First Off. Pearls should be the last thing you put on and the first thing you take off. This will ensure you don't accidentally apply makeup, perfume, or creams on them.
  • Layer Pearls Carefully. Even the contact with the clasps or your other jewelry can scratch your pearls, so be meticulous when layering them with other jewelry pieces.
  • Never Hang Pearl Strands. If you do have pearl strands on silk thread, those need to be treated with care. Hanging your pearls can damage the thread and cause your pearls to fall and break. You want to store your pearls laying flat to be safe.
  • Avoid Dry Environments. Do not save your pearls in a plastic container or bag; you want them to be able to absorb moisture from the environment. The ideal way to store them is in a dish or a breathable, soft cloth bag.

How to Clean Your Pearls

#1 Cleaning

  • Prepare a Solution. Mix a few drops of mild dish soap with lukewarm water in a small bowl.
  • Soak Briefly. Submerge your pearls in the solution for no more than 30 seconds. Pearls are porous and can absorb liquids.
  • Clean with Care. Use a soft, clean makeup brush or cloth to gently go over each pearl. This will help remove any buildup of dirt without scratching the surface.

#2 Rinsing

  • Fresh Water Rinse. Dampen a soft cloth with clean, distilled water and gently wipe the pearls to remove any soap residue.
  • Avoid Soaking Them. Do not rinse your pearls under running water or submerge them during this step, as this can cause damage over time.

#3 Drying

  • Soft Towel Patting. After rinsing, lay the pearls on a soft towel and gently pat them dry.
  • Air Drying. Allow the pearls to air dry completely before storing them. This step is crucial as any residual moisture can cause damage to the pearls’ luster.

#4 Professional Care

  • Routine Care. After each wear, it’s best to wipe cultured pearls with a very soft, clean cloth to remove body oils and perspiration.
  • Professional Inspection. Regularly have your pearls professionally cleaned to remove any signs of wear and tear.

Fine Pearl Jewelry by Marilyn Brogan

As you can probably tell, I love pearls! You'll find many earrings, necklaces, and delicate bracelets featuring beautiful pearls across my collections. But pearls, while seemingly robust, require thoughtful care. I want you to make informed decisions and care for your pearls, so that you can enjoy them for a long time. Remember, it’s the small acts of care that go a long way in preserving the legacy of your pearls. With a little care, the legacy of your pearls will continue to shine brightly, just as the stories they embody.